Kentucky forward signee Keion Brooks Jr. wasn’t considered a top-10 prospect in the class of 2019, nor was he even a consensus five-star athlete. He had plenty of Hall of Fame coaches and prestigious programs vying for his signature, but most recruiting services didn’t consider him a can’t-miss prospect in the class.
What he was, however, was the leading scorer and most valuable player of the No. 1 high school basketball team in the nation this year, La Lumiere. The same La Lumiere squad that went undefeated through the regular season and failed to lose a single game until the high school national championship.
Say what you want about Brooks’ specific strengths and weaknesses, but what isn’t debatable about the 6-foot-8 forward out of Fort Wayne, IN is that he is a true winner at his core.
“The kid just likes to win, wants to win,” La Lumiere head coach Pat Holmes told KSR at the Jordan Brand Classic this past weekend. “He’s going to compete, he’s going to play the right way, he’s gonna share the ball, hit open shots. He’s a great teammate, guys love playing with him. But that’s the biggest thing, he’s going to go to Kentucky and he’s going to want to win. He’s not concerned with his own stuff, he’s concerned when he doesn’t play well, but if the team wins, he’s alright with it.”
When asked about the his former coach’s comments, Brooks says he can’t necessarily disagree. In his mind, as long as he’s making a positive impact on the win/loss column, it doesn’t matter what the box score says about his game. That’s the mindset he plans on taking with him to Lexington this fall.
“I just feel like I go out there every time and try to make a winning play,” Brooks said. “Whatever it takes to help my team win, whether that’s playing defense, scoring, rebounding, facilitating the ball, whatever I can do to help my team win. That’s the same attitude I’m going to take to Kentucky.”
According to Holmes, that growth for Brooks came last spring when he joined his AAU program, Spiece Indy Heat. They worked together to groom him to play on the perimeter more to add versatility to his game.
In the Kentucky signee’s mind, that’s how you contribute on a winning program. If you minimize your flaws and expand your game to play anywhere on the floor, you’re a tough player to stop.
“(His AAU team) played him as a perimeter player, catch-and-shoot, one dribble pull-ups, trying to use ball screens a little bit,” Holmes said. “He just wanted to add some versatility to his offensive game because he’s so comfortable posting up a little bit, and this year he’s posting up smaller guards, smaller wings, so he can get to his sweet spot. … He did a little bit of everything for us on the offensive end, going on the offensive glass, cutting hard, running in transition, catch-and-shoot threes. He was kind of Mr. Utility for us.”
With the ability to knock down shots, bring the ball up the floor, and drive the paint, it’s obvious he brings a lot of positive to the floor. But what about the negative?
According to Holmes, the future Wildcat will need to bulk up a bit when he makes it to Lexington.
“At the next level, he’s 6-foot-8, good size, gotta get stronger, but that’ll come with time when he’s in a college weight room for a year or two,” he said. “That’s going to really help his game and his development.”
But with the resources available to him at Kentucky, Brooks’ head coach doesn’t have a doubt in his mind that his star forward will be able to develop into a freak physically.
“He probably needs to get stronger with the ball, there are moments that he’s probably too upright, but that also comes with his body,” Holmes said. “He came to us, and we were able to put on seven or eight pounds of good muscle in a short period of time. When you get to Kentucky where you have training rooms and facilities, food, resources at your fingertips 24/7, you’re going to see a lot of gains there where he’s going to be in a healthy spot, especially in the lower body.”
And when that happens, watch out.
“It’s going to make him a little more explosive, which is kinda crazy to think about because he can already jump through the roof,” Holmes continued. “He’s got great length and great versatility, but just taking care of his body, that’s going to really help his game improve. A little bit of handling the ball, being stronger with it when he’s driving the ball, that’s about it.”
Personality-wise, Holmes describes Brooks as an “old school” kid. He enjoys listening to old music and watching old movies, just enjoys going with the flow.
Above all else, though, Brooks eats, breathes, and sleeps basketball.
“He’s a basketball junkie, loves watching the NBA and college basketball,” Holmes said. “He’s the kind of guy you can have conversations with about random games and stuff like that. Easy personality, wants to win, he’s going to compete, extremely coachable, wants you to coach him hard, wants to be held accountable. He’s going to be a delight to coach and watch for a year or two at Kentucky.
When it came to his recruitment, Holmes knew the process wasn’t easy for his star forward. When you’re a laid-back guy like Brooks, but have to field countless phone calls, fill your schedule with visits both at home and on the road, it gets you out of your comfort zone a bit.
Now that the process is over with, he’s excited for Brooks to finally be able to just focus on getting to Kentucky and developing both as a player and a person.
“I was just happy for him because recruiting is not easy, especially when it comes to higher level kids like him,” Holmes said. “Ton of scrutiny they’re under, they’re always under the microscope. I know he was weighing a lot of great options, a bunch of Hall of Fame coaches, along with Indiana also talking to him. That was tugging on his heartstrings, being a hometown kid. But I was just excited for him because it was a giant weight off of his shoulders.”
So what should Kentucky fans expect from the Fort Wayne native next season in Lexington? A role player off the bench or a high-impact stud from the jump?
Bias aside, Holmes genuinely believes Brooks will fit in the latter category, though he’ll thrive in whatever role is asked of him by John Calipari.
“I genuinely think he’s going to be a big-impact guy,” he said. “Kentucky is always going to have talented players, and I think everyone at Kentucky is going to be a role player, play some type of role. Keion is going to embrace his role, because he wants to win, but it’s also going to get him better because Coach Cal brings you in with the idea that “we’re going to get you to the NBA as quickly as possible and get you ready.”‘
According to Holmes, the Brooks family has bought into that mindset completely. They know that the Kentucky head coach is going to do whatever it takes to develop his players into the best versions of themselves for the future.
“Keion and his family, they’ve bought into that,” he said. “So you’re going to see a guy that is asked of him. If that means he’s going to come off the bench and play 20 minutes a game, he’s going to come in, play his role, and do it to the best of his ability.”